Meet the Artist: Leah Laker

Photo: Courtesy of Leah Laker

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I am Canadian by birth and Israeli by choice. My childhood was spent in Victoria, on the Pacific coast with its rugged beauty and sense of freedom. I was able to hike and ride my bike with friends and have outdoor adventures without being under adult supervision. This has given me a strong sense of independence and self-direction.

We moved East to Ottawa when I turned twelve and this was a completely different experience. There was a new language to learn and use (French), I had to start over in developing friendships and the community experience was urban and confined rather than suburban and open. It opened new doors to Canadian art via the National Gallery of Canada and broadened my life experiences.

Ridgemont High School in Ottawa was where I began my formal artistic training as it had a visual arts department. I still remember, fondly, Mr. Gilmore, my art teacher who encouraged me to develop my artistic skills. Doodling and sketching, often during class time were past times. I also developed my love for history at this time.

After completing Teachers’ College in Ottawa, I was hired by the Scarborough Board of Education (later the Toronto District School Board) where I finished my professional career as Principal of Wexford P.S.  Toronto was my home for over thirty years before I made aliyah to Israel in 2007 with my husband, David and our son, Joshua.

We did not leave our vibrant Jewish Community in Toronto out of discontent or disaffection for Canada. Rather, we made the decision to “come home” to Israel. It is a decision we have never regretted. We moved to Modi’in which is halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It is both an ancient Biblical site and a growing, thriving modern City. Almost everywhere I go I see reminders of the Maccabees, Crusaders and Arab communities which once populated this neighborhood. This gives me plenty of ideas for painting.

What inspired you to become an artist?

Looking at the beauty in colors, shapes and patterns of the world around me, I am continually inspired to capture the feelings of awe and wonder. See how that leaf bends and catches the light on its outer edge. Look at the gradations in color of those flower petals. These are some of the ideas which guide my creativity. It is at my core that I want to really look at nature and marvel at the variations within. I want to create this same awareness for other people, encouraging them to delight in the beauty of this world, especially when there is so much chaos and darkness. Watercolors have long been my favorite medium because of the beautiful transitions and layers of color which emerge, often without pre planning. I do consciously seek to create shapes and patterns in my composition but vibrant colors are what people most often notice and comment on when they view my paintings.

What is your specialty?

My specialty is painting landscapes, in watercolor and acrylics. I have begun to experiment with using black markers for sketching trees and enjoy creating textures through strokes and hatching. Recently I have begun extending my Story Behind the Painting details to create a linking of a landscape painting with an historical context. It is especially important to me to bring Israel’s landscapes to people who cannot visit themselves but are eager for understanding their heritage and culture.

In Toronto, I was a member of The Toronto Watercolor Society and the Willowdale Group of Artists. Here I learned techniques from well established professional artists in workshops and demos. It was the Canadian Group of Seven whose landscape paintings I most admired and viewed in art galleries and museums but the influence of some modern artists, e.g. Linda Kemp with her negative painting techniques, also gave me inspiration and direction for my professional development. I still review many of the resources from these artists as well as tutorials on YouTube.

How and where do you work?

I work from my home studio, StudioRimonim, but have an online presence. I most frequently paint from personal photo resources, often collected from several visits to a site. I keep these reference photos in a binder and on my computer. I crop and edit photos to create different views and combine elements until I have the composition I like. Sometimes I will do a values sketch but I find printing in black and white will serve that purpose. I learned, early on, not to copy photos but rather to create a composition.

What is the most indispensable item in your studio?

My indispensable items are my brushes and paints. I am lucky to have a north lit window so light is also very important to me. I find I cannot continue painting after mid afternoon as the light change is too severe.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are you pursuing any themes?

My inspiration is Israel, land, history, culture and Jewish Studies. I just completed a themed project called “Journey to Har Sinai”. I was able to coordinate historical accounts with an ancient map and my paintings. It is very special when you realize that you can bring to life, for other people, places and events they can only read about. It always bothered me that there was so much complaining by the people as they traveled through the Midbar/Wilderness. After traveling through the area myself, even with the luxuries of vehicles and air conditioning I can better appreciate how courageous our ancestors actually were. I tried to convey the stark patterns and formidable nature of the landscape, while still showing the beautiful variations in colors and shapes into my paintings. I also wrote considerable detail, which helps explain this journey and invites the audience to imagine themselves in this place and time.

Do you do bespoke work?

I would consider it for an individual project provided there was a clear understanding and commitment between the client and myself.

What projects are you currently working on?

My big project at this time is “Discover Israel Through an Artist’s Eyes.  Everything kind of came together for me in a flash of insight when the CoronaVirus shut down the Tourism Industry in Israel. I have always used Social Media to show and market my paintings as well as telling the story behind the painting. What changed was that I realized my passion for both history and art could be  combined in  a unique way to provide a definite benefit for people living outside of Israel. I have revised my website and Instagram account to reflect this new goal. I live here and can share my experiences.

What are your favourite items in your current collection?

My favorite items in my current collection are my landscape paintings of the Midbar/Wilderness. I have never before added people into the landscape but it is important to the narrative so I am learning how to do that. It really thrills me to be able to share my on the spot experience with those who can only read about it.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

When I get to the point of “fiddling” or obsessing over details, I know it’s time to stop.

What was the first artwork you ever sold?

The first artwork I ever sold was a floral, sold at the annual Spring Show of the Willowdale Group of Artists. It was bought by my sister-in-law and still hangs in her home. It made me feel so good.

Which project have you enjoyed working on the most so far?

The project which has brought me the most satisfaction and enjoyment, thus far, is one I did to honour the Fallen Soldiers of the IDF. It is called, “IDF Salute”. In the painting, I painted all of the beret colors of the Brigades of the Israel Defense Forces  into the Cypress trees which line the path to the community, in the distance.  This painting is hanging at the entrance to the Yad Labanim Centre in Modi’in where bereaved family members come to remember their loved ones.

What do you want to achieve with your work and what are your wishes for the future?

My goal is to enable people living outside of Israel to “Discover Israel Through an Artist’s Eyes”

I would like to have my work viewed by many different people who will share it with their friends.

I have digital downloads of Israel landscapes available for people to purchase, as well as prints available to order from my own website shop and I would like to work with Judaica Shops and art galleries to market my art to the Jewish and Christian communities.

Where can we find your work?

Photos: Courtesy of Leah Laker

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